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Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift Jonathan Swift[1†]

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was an Anglo-Irish satirist, author, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and Anglican cleric who became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin[1†]. He is best known for his works such as “A Tale of a Tub” (1704), “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726), and “A Modest Proposal” (1729)[1†][2†]. Swift’s writing, which includes a blend of satire, parable, polemic, and correspondence, has had a significant influence on the English language and literature[1†].

Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland, and spent much of his early adult life in England before returning to Dublin to serve as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the last 30 years of his life[1†][3†]. His writings, which were often published under pseudonyms such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M. B. Drapier, or anonymously, are characterized by their deadpan, ironic style[1†]. This unique style of satire has since been termed "Swiftian"[1†].

Swift’s impact on literature and society extends beyond his lifetime, with his works continuing to be studied and celebrated for their exploration of societal and political issues through satire and humor[1†].

Early Years and Education

Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667, in Dublin, Ireland[2†][4†]. His father, also named Jonathan Swift, was an Englishman who had settled in Ireland after the Stuart Restoration (1660) and become steward of the King’s Inns, Dublin[2†]. In the spring of 1667, Jonathan Swift Sr. passed away, leaving his wife, baby daughter, and an unborn son to the care of his brothers[2†]. The younger Jonathan Swift thus grew up fatherless and dependent on the generosity of his uncles[2†][4†].

Swift’s education was not neglected, however. At the age of six, he was sent to Kilkenny School, then the best in Ireland[2†][4†]. He excelled in languages and enjoyed studying literature[2†][4†]. In 1682, he entered Trinity College in Dublin, where he was granted his Bachelor of Arts degree in February 1686[2†][5†]. His degree was granted speciali gratia (“by special favor”), a device often used when a student’s record failed, in some minor respect, to conform to the regulations[2†].

The anti-Catholic Revolution of 1688 in England led to Irish Catholic disorders spreading through Dublin[2†][6†]. This caused Swift, a Protestant, to seek security in England[2†][6†]. He spent various intervals in England before 1714[2†][6†].

Career Development and Achievements

Jonathan Swift’s career began when he became a part of the household of Sir William Temple, a distant relative of his mother, at Moor Park, Surrey[2†][1†]. He served as a secretary to Sir William Temple from approximately 1689 to 1694[2†][7†]. During this time, Swift had the opportunity to meet and interact with politicians, thinkers, and writers of the day, which greatly influenced his future writings[2†][1†].

In 1694, Swift was ordained as a priest in the Church of Ireland (Anglican Church) and was assigned as Vicar (parish priest) of Kilroot, a church near Belfast (in northern Ireland)[2†][7†]. However, Swift’s ambitions were not limited to his clerical duties. He was also a prolific writer and satirist, known for his deadpan, ironic writing style[2†][1†].

Swift’s first major work, “A Tale of a Tub,” was published in 1704[2†][1†]. This satirical work, which critiqued the religious excesses of his time, established Swift’s reputation as a writer[2†][1†]. He continued to write and publish extensively, often under pseudonyms such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, M. B. Drapier, or anonymously[2†][1†].

Swift’s most famous work, “Gulliver’s Travels,” was published in 1726[2†][1†]. This satirical novel, which presents a scathing critique of human nature and the politics of his time, has since become a classic of English literature[2†][1†].

Throughout his career, Swift was a master of two styles of satire, the Horatian and Juvenalian styles[2†][1†]. His unique blend of humor, irony, and sharp social commentary has since been termed “Swiftian” and continues to influence writers today[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Jonathan Swift’s literary career spans several decades, during which he produced numerous works that have left an indelible mark on English literature[2†][1†]. Here are some of his most notable works:

Swift’s works, characterized by his deadpan, ironic writing style, have led to such satire being subsequently termed "Swiftian"[2†][1†]. His writings continue to be celebrated for their wit, stylistic brilliance, and sharp social commentary.

Analysis and Evaluation

Jonathan Swift’s works have been widely analyzed and evaluated by scholars and critics alike. His unique style of writing, often termed “Swiftian”, is characterized by its biting satire, irony, and deadpan humor[10†].

Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a powerful example of his satirical style. The essay proposes a shocking solution to the problem of poverty in Ireland, reflecting Swift’s ability to combine humor with biting social and political criticism[10†][11†]. His use of baseless calculations and statistics in the essay further highlights his satirical intent, as he presents absurd solutions with a seemingly earnest demeanor[10†][11†].

“Gulliver’s Travels”, perhaps Swift’s most famous work, is a satirical novel that has become a classic of English literature[10†][12†]. The novel is a parody of the then-popular travel narrative, combining adventure with savage satire that mocks English customs and the politics of the day[10†][12†]. The Lilliputians’ small size mirrors their small-mindedness, indulging in ridiculous customs and petty debates[10†][12†].

Swift’s “A Tale of a Tub” is considered a masterpiece of the prose satirical tradition[10†][11†][13†]. It defends the middle position of the Anglican and Lutheran churches[10†][13†]. The concepts and words supporting these distinctions suggest two strands in Swift’s thinking: pessimism about the human condition and interest in the quotidian world[10†][13†].

In summation, Swift is considered one of the greatest British authors of all time due to his contributions in defining and perfecting the style of satire and parody[10†]. His writings, filled with sharp social commentary and biting satire, continue to be studied and celebrated for their insight, wit, and stylistic brilliance[10†].

Personal Life

Jonathan Swift was born into a poor family that included his mother (Abigail) and his sister (Jane). His father, a noted clergyman in England, had died seven months before Jonathan’s birth[7†]. Swift was the second child and only son of Jonathan Swift (1640–1667) and his wife Abigail Erick (or Herrick) of Frisby on the Wreake[7†][1†]. His father was a native of Goodrich, Herefordshire, but he accompanied his brothers to Ireland to seek their fortunes in law after their Royalist father’s estate was brought to ruin during the English Civil War[7†][1†].

His maternal grandfather, James Ericke, was the vicar of Thornton in Leicestershire. In 1634 the vicar was convicted of Puritan practices. Some time thereafter, Ericke and his family, including his young daughter Abigail, fled to Ireland[7†][1†]. Swift’s father joined his elder brother, Godwin, in the practice of law in Ireland[7†][1†]. He died in Dublin about seven months before his namesake was born[7†][1†]. He died of syphilis, which he said he got from dirty sheets when out of town[7†][1†].

His mother returned to England after his birth, leaving him in the care of his uncle Godwin Swift (1628–1695), a close friend and confidant of Sir John Temple, whose son later employed Swift as his secretary[7†][1†]. At the age of one, child Jonathan was taken by his wet nurse to her hometown of Whitehaven, Cumberland, England. He said that there he learned to read the Bible. His nurse returned him to his mother, still in Ireland, when he was three[7†][1†].

Swift was born in Dublin and spent most of his life in Ireland, never traveling outside the British Isles[7†][14†][15†]. An Anglo-Irish Protestant clergyman, he was a major political and religious figure whose career was primarily clerical, not literary[7†][14†][15†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Jonathan Swift’s legacy continues to endure, and his name remains synonymous with masterful satire[16†]. He is a lasting icon of English literature and a cherished figure in British heritage[16†]. His writings serve as a testament to the power of words to effect change and the enduring impact of satire as a vehicle for social and political commentary[16†].

Swift’s satirical prowess, both in the Horatian and Juvenalian styles, earned him the reputation of the foremost prose satirist in the English language[16†]. His writing style, characterized by deadpan irony, came to be known as "Swiftian"[16†]. While his satire was cutting and piercing, it also had the ability to provoke deep reflection and inspire societal change[16†].

In addition to his literary contributions, Swift left a lasting legacy by founding Ireland’s first mental health services hospital, shaping the future of mental health care in Ireland in the 21st Century[16†][17†].

His literary contributions have left an enduring impact on British heritage, shaping the course of English literature and influencing subsequent generations of writers[16†]. His writings, such as “Gulliver’s Travels”, “A Modest Proposal”, “A Journal to Stella”, “Drapier’s Letters”, “The Battle of the Books”, “An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity”, and “A Tale of a Tub”, are still remembered and studied today[16†][18†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Jonathan Swift [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Jonathan Swift: Anglo-Irish author and clergyman [website] - link
  3. Poetry Foundation - Jonathan Swift [website] - link
  4. The Famous People - Jonathan Swift Biography [website] - link
  5. Victorian Era - Jonathan Swift - Biography [website] - link
  6. Britannica - Jonathan Swift summary [website] - link
  7. CliffsNotes - Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift Biography [website] - link
  8. Wikisource (English) - Jonathan Swift [website] - link
  9. LitPriest - Jonathan Swift's Writing Style and Short Biography [website] - link
  10. Gradesfixer - Analyzing The Specifics of Swift's Writing Style [website] - link
  11. LitCharts - A Modest Proposal Summary & Analysis [website] - link
  12. Britannica - Gulliver’s Travels: novel by Swift [website] - link
  13. Springer Link - A concept analysis of Jonathan Swift's A tale of a Tub and Gulliver's Travels [website] - link
  14. The MIT Press Bookstore - The Life of Jonathan Swift (Wiley Blackwell Critical Biographies) [website] - link
  15. Wiley - The Life of Jonathan Swift [website] - link
  16. British Heritage - Jonathan Swift - The Supreme Satirist [website] - link
  17. St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services - The Life and Legacy of Jonathan Swift [website] - link
  18. Simple Wikipedia (English) - Jonathan Swift [website] - link
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